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Interesting Fall for Federal Appropriations

by Louis J. Jenny  |  August 9th, 2013
The outlook for Fiscal Year (FY) 2014 appropriations is unusually murky this year.  We all knew that the final House/Senate negotiations on appropriations would be tough.  What was somewhat less anticipated is the apparent difficulty each chamber is separately having just getting to those negotiations. 
As background, the House and Senate never agreed on a FY 2014 Budget.  In this resolution, they traditionally agree on broad spending limits for each of the 12 annual appropriations bills.  Instead, this year each body is writing spending bills based on its own respective version of the resolution.  And, those resolutions differ by a total of about $91 billion.  For example, in one of the less contentious bills, the Military Construction-VA bill, the House and Senate are apart by about a billion dollars - $73.3 billion in the House and $74.3 billion in the Senate.  However, in the more contentious Transportation-HUD bill, they are apart by more than $10 billion.  The House is looking to spend about $44 billion and the Senate about $54 billion. 
With the House in Republican control and the Senate in Democratic control, not only do the two bodies have very different programmatic funding priorities, this year they are also working with different total numbers.  This inevitably will lead to very tough final negotiations on spending. 
To add to the complexity, it seems that both bodies are having trouble passing their own versions of at least some bills.  Last week, the Senate came up six votes short when it tried to move forward on its version of a Transportation-HUD spending bill, and the House GOP leadership had to pull its bill off the floor because it didn’t have the votes to pass it.  This means that not only are there big negotiations ahead between the House and Senate (with the White House very much involved), but each body has internal challenges and serious disagreements on policy and spending.
FY 2013 ends with September.  So far, none of the FY 2014 bills have been signed into law.  It now seems very unlikely that Congress will be able to pass the 12 bills in regular order, so a large omnibus bill will be needed.  But how Congress gets from where they are now, through all the policy and spending differences, to that large omnibus in so short a time is very unclear.  Some short term measures to buy more time are possible, but the negotiations will be tough.  To add to the uncertain nature of all of this, many are predicting a federal government shutdown will take place before any final agreements are reached.
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